I cheered when I learned of First Lady Michelle Obama's new initiative, Let's Move, aimed at the mounting epidemic of childhood obesity. It's a major breakthrough for government to address obesity's systemic causes. Up until now, we've held the absurd expectation that we can address a nationwide health crisis by expecting individuals one-by-one-one to deploy willpower to fight off an avalanche of subsidized, cheap and harmful foods, made palatable by food scientists, and proffered by multi-million dollar ad campaigns. Thank you, First Lady, Michelle Obama. This is what accountable, proactive government looks like.
America is a consumer-based culture. We take a lot of things in, but we don't often examine what they are or what they are doing to us. As authors like Michael Pollan, and doctors like Mehmet Oz, Dean Ornish, Andrew Weil, Mark Hyman, Joseph Mercola and many others have pointed out--we pay with our health when we thoughtlessly take in unhealthy foods.
To use Pollan's term, we don't know where our food comes from. We don't bother to read the ingredients on a food label. Nor do we look critically at the marketing and advertising that manipulate us to consume what's harmful. Why is there a plethora of conflicting food advice? Because, over the last hundred years, our habits of life have been so influenced by industrialization, advertising, and the media, that most of us can no longer rely on plain old common sense to guide us to the right food choices.
That's why countless books, years of research, millions of dollars, and thousands of blogs have to prove what once common sense could have told us. Leading researchers like Harvard endocrinologist, Dr. David Ludwig, MD (and pioneering fats researcher Dr. Mary Enig, PhD) have demonstrated exactly how low value carbs, transfats, sodas, and fast food have contributed to the obesity epidemic that drives up health costs. As a result of these patterns of food consumption, Ludwig's studies also show that the next generation will be less long-lived than their parents, the first time this has occurred.
These and other scientific studies will be invaluable in revising the food pyramid, a much needed change which the First Lady is thankfully initiating. If Michelle Obama succeeds in changing the foods available to school children, I would consider it one of the most significant improvements made by this administration. That and speaking in English, rather than in tongues.
Addressing our health crisis systemically is long overdue.
In last year's book, The End of Overeating, David Kessler MD, documented how food industry scientists deliberately manipulate our taste-buds, leading many to crave and eat food ingredients that are at best nutritionally valueless, and at worst harmful, such as trans-fats, and high fructose corn syrup, proffered into ersatz creations that seduce people into weight gain.
Here was a former head of the FDA, once in a position to initiate changes in the regulations and practices that put harmful foods within easy reach. But instead of addressing systemic contributors to unhealthy food consumption, he writes yet another health advice book, leaving it to you, me, and our children to resist harmful foods on our own.
If we had a pro-health culture, the absurdity of this would be obvious.
But up until now, unless there's a flu scare, we overlook the long term health consequences of industrial policies, business practices, and areas of governmental regulation, that may negatively impact the health of millions of people. American individualism is a great strength--but if we trust it's authenticity, there's no reason to fear systemic interventions that make it easier, rather than harder for all of us to lose weight, maintain health, and stroll off into the sunset when we are good and ready. In Michelle Obama, we now have a health champion.
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